Regularly Check the Stored Food
This old-fashioned way of food preserving is going to require a real adjustment in your attitude if you're used to thinking of preserved foods as a near absolute—putting the cans or jars on the shelf and the packages in the freezer, and forgetting about them until needed. It isn't so with storage of fresh vegetables and fruits, nor is it so with dried, salted, sugared, spiced, or alcoholed foods. These items require upkeep— regular, faithful attention all the while you have them.
Root Cellar Checklist
1. Tour your root cellar at least once a week, carefully looking for problems. You'll be in a race with decay all winter long, just as you were in a race to preserve nature's abundance from your garden and orchard all summer long.
2. Be ready to make a switch from this method of preserving to another if it looks like you're going to lose some food. That means if there's a problem, you salvage what is possible and can, dry, pickle, freeze, or quickly eat it. You also want to remove any and all spoiling vegetables or fruits because the rot spreads to others if you let it go.
3. Green tomatoes and apples: If they have begun to spoil, check them every day or two. Remove bad apples and tomatoes. Take tomatoes that have turned red for kitchen use. If the apples start going in quantity, make a lot of pies or applesauce or freeze apple slices in syrup for pies.
4. Check crock pickles for excessive scum (or mold) on top. If they have it, pour off the brine, boil it, add another cup of vinegar and an extra handful of salt, and then pour it back onto the pickles.
5. Check dried fruits and vegetables for signs of mold. If you have mold, heat in your oven and then repackage.
6. Check grains and grain products for insect infestation. (See Chapter 3.)
7. Check for mold or bugs in your home-dried fruits. If bugs are present, put the food in a small cheesecloth bag and dip into boiling water for 6 seconds. Dry again and then store in something bug-proof. Or freeze for a few days.
8. Jams and jellies may develop surface mold. If one does, throw it out.
9. If a squash or pumpkin has developed a soft spot, cut out that spot and give to the animals. Cook up the rest to use, can, or freeze.
If you are interested in storing large quantities of food for a very long time (like years), make some Mormon friends. They have made a complete study of this and have lots of practice too. I am blessed with a Mormon mother-in-law who is a dear and precious mother to me and has guided me to a lot of learning. They'd rather be called "Latter-Day Saints," but you probably already knew that.
I think the biggest single principle of cellar-type storage is that you should put away more than you expect to need in order to allow for losses during storage. The thing that makes root-cellar storage really pay off is owning a pig or chickens, so you can recycle the food that doesn't keep into bacon and eggs. By late March, seven-eighths of your winter squash either will have been brought up to the kitchen for cooking or will have spoiled or be near enough spoiled so that you have fed it to the animals. In other words, if you let all your squash set on the shelves all winter long in whatever condition it was (and that would hasten spoilage of the remainder), only seven-eighths of it or less will make it to March. If you do end up with good food left over, you can share it with your neighbors (or the animals).
When you have made your major weekly inspection, sorting out what's bad and should be fed to the pigs and chickens (which is good for them) and setting aside what needs to be cooked up next week for the family, then stop a moment. Admire your shelves covered with home-canned food, your deep freeze full of vegetables and meat, the boxes of apples in the garage, the crocks of pickles and boxes of root vegetables covering your cellar floor, and the cabbage waiting in trenches outside in the garden. Feel good about what your family accomplished and secure about the future, and give thanks to your Good Lord for it.
Continue reading here: Sugaringand Fruit Preservation
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